Stress, tactus, ictus and polyrhythms

Mark at Language Log recently posted on metrics in music and I have a couple of points to add.

Renaissance composers frequently play around with syncopation and word stress for effect. Renaissance music wasn’t composed with bars and key signatures like more familiar classical music, but there is a tactus or beat. Going with the word stress against the tactus can create hemiola effects and highlight parts of the text. An equivalent clash in ictus and word stress is also used in classical hexameters. Virgil is very fond of this in the more alarming battle narratives.

Some composers get the word stress wrong. I see it most commonly in modern composers trying to set Latin texts but Handel is also famous for this; Mark mentioned and he shall reign where the words line up, but in the setting of And the glory of the Lord shall be revealed, of is stressed (except in most modern editions where the underlay is altered so glory gets two prominent beats). Handel also gives prominence to For in for unto us a child is born and other conjunctions that would usually go on an upbeat.

One of the features of Bardi ilma song style is stress shift, but it doesn’t occur in all verses. I don’t know how common it is in other Australian song styles.

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